Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Flyers save their season?

I know it might be a little soon in the calendar to look for season-defining games, but the Flyers made one for themselves this afternoon in Boston. After the draining loss on Wednesday, in which the depleted Flyers managed to hang tough with the Bruins until the final stanza - I was not expecting much good to come out of Boston. Especially when the news trickled down that Mike Richards and Scottie Upshall wouldn't be dressing. Jared Ross centering Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble? Granted, he just won the AHL fastest skater competition, but that didn't bode well. Ossi Vaananen penciled in at center? Please.

On to the game.

Martin Biron looked his usual shaky self early on, giving up a weak goal to Marc Savard in the early minutes of the game. Hug the post, Marty. Thankfully Gagne gave me a reason to keep watching, converting in the last second of a 5 on 3 advantage. The PP actually showed up on the road today, in one of the toughest places to play this year. Solid puck movement throughout.

Then came a gut-wrenching 8 second span of time with a minute left in the first. Byron Bitz tallied his first career goal, and he won't get many easier than that. Biron left the net wide open as a puck ricocheted off the bar and settled in the crease for Bitz to slip in the open cage. Fine, 2-1 heading to the second, that's doable. Wrong. 3-1. Chuck Kobasew takes a puck down the boards, slips by Braydon Coburn with ease, and fires a puck right past Biron, sealing his fate. 8 seconds apart. The Bruins outplayed the Flyers in the first, so a 1-1 score on the road would've been just fine.

I about turned off the television right there, just as I did when the third goal was tallied on Wednesday night in the third period. Alas, I decided to finish watching the game, though I had little faith that the Flyers would rebound. Coach Stevens made the necessary move by pulling Biron and replacing him with Niitty. I understand why Biron got the start in the first place (the Flyers play the Thrashers tomorrow, Niitty's favorite team in the whole wide world), but he is really struggling. I don't think he has what it takes to win a Cup. Too many soft goals, too much inconsistency.. perhaps he needs the playoffs to focus, but that's not good enough, nor can the Flyers hope that might happen.

The second period went much better than expected. Metro tallies his second goal of the season after some great forechecking by him and Arron Asham. Speaking of Asham, this might have been his best game as a Flyer. He didn't score a goal, but he was very motivated when he was on the ice. It's the kind of play I thought I'd be seeing more frequently from him when they picked him up in the offseason. But I digress.

Hartnell ties the score on the PP soon after, and we've got a game again folks. The Flyers really took the play to the Bruins in the second period. Even when they hadn't scored yet, you could tell they were making smart decisions and generating dangerous opportunities. You didn't get that sense at all on Wednesday. My hope was renewed. I told everyone that would listen - please, let the Flyers force OT. Do that, and they've salvaged a brutal home and home with the #1 team in the East while missing their captain.

The third period was back and forth, good chances at both ends, and a terrific sense of urgency displayed by the Flyers. As time wore on the game really heated up. I wish I'd been there, it seemed like playoff intensity. You know that feeling you get in the playoffs that you can't get in the regular season? That extra, uncontrollable beating of the heart, the mounting tension.. It was all there. And it was almost ruined by a rogue stick. Niitty whipped a puck out of the air into the netting with just over a minute left in the third, giving the Bruins a lethal chance to end the game in regulation. They moved the puck well, but it was the Flyers who had the best chances, as both Jeff Carter and Gagne were denied by Manny Fernandez. I find it amusing listening to broadcasters from other teams praising the Flyers for all their shorthanded goals and neglecting to mention that while it's impressive they have 13 of them - they haven't scored one in ages.

Anyways, the Flyers did exactly what I asked of them - they forced overtime. One point in the books - the echoes of last year's ten game post-all star break losing streak starting to fade. And now they've got just as much chance to finish this off as the Bruins do, after they kill the penalty, of course. And they did. Then came a PING. Wideman hits the post. Flyers rush the other way. Carter alone in front of the net. Hartnell can't get it to him. Peels around, finds Randy Jones at the point. Jones flicks the shot wide of the net, aiming towards Carter in the corner.


The puck deflects off Andrew Ference and in! Miraculous. A truly stunning performance by the Flyers to rally from two goals down and take an enormous two points. If they'd lost in regulation, no, they wouldn't have been doomed. Though the division is starting to slip away as the Devils mount a furious run. Still, I can't help but feel that this game may really define the season for the Flyers.

Is this the point where Biron is fully replaced by Niitty? Niitty has proven he can excel at a top level (for Finland), but he is unproven in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Do the Flyers rally around the fact that they beat the best team in the East, in their garden, without Richards and Upshall? I don't see how they can't. That locker room must've been thrilled. These two games really developed some intense dislike between the teams. If they happen to meet in the playoffs, we're going to see a lot of action, before and after the whistles.

They didn't have much time to celebrate this win, though. Next up is the Thrashers tomorrow afternoon, and Niitty will try and maintain his perfect record against them.

Here's to a speedy recovery for Richards and everyone else around the league that's suffering from this flu bug. Cheers. I need some whiskey.


ZFiSH said...

I hope Boston and Philly do meet in the playoffs, preferably the first round.. that way I can finally see the Bruins make at least the conference semis!

DerekF said...

I'll address this comment after the trade deadline in more depth, but Boston has as many questions as Philadelphia - you only need to look at San Jose to see why sudden regular season success may not translate into immediate playoff success.